Mass market paperback, 349 pages
Acquired June 2005
Previously read August 2005
Reread December 2015
by Una McCormack
So my second book for Season Six is Una McCormack's Hollow Men, the first of these novels to be written well after the series was over-- six years after in this case-- which means it "fits" very well, coming in between "In the Pale Moonlight" and "His Way," building on some aspects of the former, and setting up some of the latter.
As I rewatch Deep Space Nine, I've been reading the reviews by Zach Handlen at The A.V. Club; Handlen is an intelligent, thoughtful tv critic, and one thing he occasionally brings up is that the series never brings up what Sisko and Garak did together. It doesn't even hint at it. Which he likes, because it lets you imagine that they're each living with it in their own way.
So, I was a little trepidatious as a I reread Hollow Men, wondering if it really made sense to follow up on "In the Pale Moonlight." In this story, Sisko and Garak travel to Earth together for a conference on how the war will be conducted now that the Romulans have joined in. McCormack writes Garak like she was born to do it, and that's the real highlight of this novel. Garak on Earth is an utter delight, from his continual sighing at people's obsession with Shakespeare to his utter disbelief that Starfleet permits antiwar protests. Garak might be fighting with the Federation, but McCormack never lets you forget that this is because he believes in the Cardassian way of life, and wants to preserve it. Living on Deep Space 9 hasn't made him go soft. Andrew Robinson's voice sings off the page with every line.
I'm not are sure about Sisko's throughline, I think because his emotional doubts resolve a tad too easily. I do like that he keeps seeking punishment for what he did, and no one will give it to him (a nice foreshadowing of what we learn about Ross in Season Seven). His conversations with his father, his sister, Garak, and his old friend-turned-peace-activist Tomas Rodier are all handled quite well. But the resolution he reaches at the end is a little too trite to ring true in the context of "In the Pale Moonlight," and I wish McCormack had left him more unsettled.
McCormack has a handle on all the characters, except that I thought they were a little too snippy with each other sometimes; all those years watching Blake's 7 bleeding in, I suppose. But in the meantime, Kira, Odo, Quark, and Bashir are up to some hijinks on the station, and though these foreshadow some turns the series will take in Season Seven, they also fill in some emotional gaps, such as Odo and Kira processing the hurt of the Occupation arc enough for Odo to believe in a relationship. Bashir struggling with playing spy games after learning about Section 31 in "Inquisition" and putting aside Secret Agent for Vic Fontaine is a nice touch.
This is my second time reading it, and I'm not entirely sure what Section 31 was up to in the Rodier plot, but I enjoyed it. Hollow Men is a novel about people finding their moral limits, and Rodier's were much further along than Sisko's-- though not, as we are reminded, anywhere near as far as Garak's. This is a book about compromised people, and what happens when they reach those limits, and how complicated the world turns out to be.
Like a lot of gaps in media franchises, I'm not entirely convinced this one needed to be filled by a tie-in story. But don't let that fool you: this is a great book, and worth reading. Would it be that all continuity gaps could be filled this well. The prose sings much more than in your usual Star Trek novel; McCormack is the best writer of the seven I've read so far, except for maybe Steven Barnes. There's a real style to this, and I enjoyed almost every word of it, and McCormack never fails to make these characters and their world real.
- Cretak appears here, "before" her first appearance in Season Seven, which is kind of nice. I like Cretak.
- Ben Sisko also gets to see his dad for the second time this year, and of course he'll be back on Earth just a couple months after this too! We also finally meet Ben's sister Judith, briefly mentioned in "Past Tense" and "Homefront," but never seen on screen. She's established to be a concert musician, which I think is meant to explain why we never see her when Ben comes to Earth; she's always on tour! (Retcon why Ben looks forward to seeing her but not his father on his visit to Earth in "Past Tense," though.)